Encouraging Regional Aboriginal Students to Pursue Health Careers

Written by Bronwyn Ellis, University of South Australia

A conference aimed at encouraging regional Aboriginal students to pursue careers in health, held at the University of South Australia’s Whyalla campus early this year, was timely: it came just after the release of the latest Closing the Gap report, which revealed only limited progress in areas related to health and life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The event built upon the success of a similar conference that took place in Whyalla last year. Approximately 80 students in their final years from secondary schools across regional South Australia, along with their teachers, attended the Gidja Wongan Regional Aboriginal Student Pathways Conference (February 19-20). They came from schools in Cummins, Port Augusta, Whyalla, and as far away as Amata in the very north of South Australia.

They heard from a range of Aboriginal role models and leaders from diverse health career backgrounds.

There were also hands-on activities, including an art project.

Keynote speakers included Tyrone Toomey, an Aboriginal psychologist who provides counselling services and support for students and health professionals in rural and remote areas, and Ruth Wallace, an Aboriginal athlete who completed the New York marathon in 2014, and is working to improve employment prospects for Aboriginal youth. The conference showed young Aboriginal students the wide opportunities available to them as they consider their future plans.

As Ruth Wallace said, “It is all about setting your goals and the steps to get there and then with the support from people at these conferences and support from programs and family, they will reach their goals. When you do something different, uncomfortable, new or exciting you are living outside your comfort zone and you are growing and becoming confident, learning and developing in all different ways.”

The conference was organised by UniSA’s Department of Rural Health, the lead conference organiser being Research Associate Kate Warren, with Master of Ceremonies Zena Wingfield.

“The conference is designed to inspire those students who are nearing the end of their school years to consider pursuing careers in the field of health,” said Kate Warren.

“The latest Closing the Gap report is just one indicator of the importance and value of trying to promote health career pathways to students. The importance of encouraging school retention and enabling more Aboriginal students to complete their schooling and build career pathways is also what the conference aimed to help address.”